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White House reportedly to discuss Syrian refugees with governors

Dozens of governors have said they oppose settling Syrian refugees in their states after Paris attacks

The White House plans to hold a conference call with U.S. governors on Tuesday to discuss the Syrian refugee situation, CNN and NBC News reported. Representatives for the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In the wake of Friday's attacks in Paris, more than two dozen U.S. governors, most of them Republicans, have called for Syrian refugees to be barred from their states.

In Louisiana, where incumbent governor Bobby Jindal is not seeking reelection, Republican contender David Vitter has run ads criticizing his opponent, John Bel Edwards, for his willingness to bring Syrian refugees into the state. Several Republican presidential candidates also said over the weekend that they oppose bringing refugees into the United States.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called Tuesday for a "pause" in Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. in the wake of the Paris attacks, and assembled a task force to bring legislation to a vote as soon as this week.

"Our nation has always been welcoming but we cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion," Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, told reporters after a closed-door House GOP meeting. "This is a moment where it's better to be safe than to be sorry, so we think the prudent, the responsible, thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population."

Republicans said the chairmen of national security-focused committees were working on legislation dealing with Syrian refugees that the House could vote on as early as Thursday. It was not clear exactly what the legislation would involve. So far, the numbers of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. from their war-torn homeland have been extremely limited and they are vetted in a lengthy process. Some Democrats denounced a rush to judgment on Capitol Hill and the presidential campaign trail.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois likened the GOP reaction to the U.S. government turning away Jews fleeing Nazi Germany and placing Japanese in internment camps during World War II.

"Let us as legislators rise above petty politics, rise above sectarian fears ... the underlying layer of xenophobia," Gutierrez said on the House floor. "Let us maintain America's commitment as a beacon of hope."

The U.S. has admitted only about 2,500 Syrians since the civil war erupted in that country in the spring of 2011, but Obama administration officials want to admit 10,000 more this year. They announced that goal earlier this fall, after a photograph of a Syrian boy washed up on a beach sparked calls for compassion, including from some congressional Republicans.

The administration has not backed off the goal. Attorney General Loretta Lynch defended the vetting process in an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, saying: "We have the benefit of having that robust screening process which Europe doesn't have."

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders voiced willingness on Tuesday to accept Syrian refugees.

Clinton, a former secretary of state, made clear Obama's plan to bring in as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees should be honored, as long as the refugees are meticulously screened.

"She believes that we need to be vigilant in screening and vetting any refugees from Syria, and that we cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and humanitarian obligations," her campaign said.

Sanders, a senator from Vermont who is challenging Clinton for the nomination, issued a similar statement.

"We will not be terrorized or live in fear. During these difficult times, we will not succumb to Islamophobia. We will not turn our backs on the refugees who are fleeing Syria and Afghanistan. We will do what we do best and that is be Americans — fighting racism, fighting xenophobia, fighting fear," he said.

A third Democratic candidate, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, has called for expanding to 65,000 the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the country.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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